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Baker activates Mass. National Guard to help ‘maintain public safety during large scale events’

Gov. Charlie Baker. (Sam Doran/Pool)
Gov. Charlie Baker. (Sam Doran/Pool)Sam Doran/Pool

Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday activated the Massachusetts National Guard to assist cities and towns if they need help maintaining public safety during “large scale events,” according to a copy of his order and the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

“Governor Baker today signed an order activating up to 1,000 members of the Massachusetts National Guard in the event that municipal leaders require assistance to protect opportunities to exercise first amendment rights and to maintain public safety during large scale events,” said an EOPSS spokesperson in a statement. “National Guard personnel are deployed only at the request of, and in coordination with, the communities seeking support.”

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The agency also provided a copy of Baker’s order, which takes effect Thursday and will remain active until “further order of Adjutant General” of the guard.

A spokesman for the state’s executive office of public safety declined further comment beyond its initial statement, including on whether any cities or towns had requested aid from the National Guard.

Baker said in the order that he was exercising his authority under state law to activate the guard to provide “emergency assistance for the preservation of life and property, preservation of order, and to afford protection to persons."

“This activation includes up to 1,000 military personnel of the Massachusetts National Guard and may be increased by further order,” said the notice signed by the governor.

State officials noted that the activation number doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of guard personnel who could be deployed at any given time, and that the guard’s diverse and highly trained members live in communities across the state. And, officials said, guard members frequently train side-by-side with local first responders.

When assisting a local police department, officials said, guard personnel follow that agency’s protocols and use its radio frequencies whenever possible. Authorities said guard members have assisted law enforcement throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Guard activations have become a thorny issue amid widespread demonstrations for racial justice that have swept across the country.

Baker previously activated the guard in late August, drawing criticism from activists and a Boston city councilor who said that decision had the potential both to stoke tensions and discourage would-be protesters from taking part in peaceful demonstrations.

The governor said at the time that the activation stemmed from requests made by “a number of municipal officials” to have assistance available in advance of a number of planned demonstrations.

"We heard from a number of municipal officials who asked us if we would have people available to support them, if those events turned out to be bigger than what they would be able to manage on their own,” Baker said soon after the prior activation.

Boston protests following the May murder of George Floyd — a Black man who died when a police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee onto a handcuffed Floyd’s neck for several minutes, despite pleas from Floyd that he couldn’t breathe — were largely peaceful.

However, after a peaceful series of rallies in Boston on the night of May 31, violence erupted as the night wore on, as some people pelted police with bottles and cans, torched a police cruiser, damaged vehicles, and broke into stores throughout Downtown Crossing and the Back Bay.

Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this story. Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.